The Packers aren't running the ball, and it shows

Jonathan Daniel - Getty Images

The Packers aren't the balanced offense they've been in years' past. Green Bay scores when they run the ball, and right now, they aren't running the ball.

The Packers are currently 2-3, a record far worse than what most people expected them to have at this point in the season. It's perhaps as many losses as most fans expected them to have all season. The defense has been okay -- statistically better than last year, at least -- but not what it was two years ago. The problem appears to lie within the offense, and while multiple areas of the offense are not where they should be, the running game (or lack thereof) has stuck out.

In multiple games this season, there have been extended periods of time where the Packers have avoided running the ball, and their offense has gone stagnant when doing so (the first half against Seattle and the second half against Indy come to mind). While the Packers' yards per carry average isn't great (the running backs are averaging 4.0 yards per carry, the exact same number that they averaged last season), it seems acceptable while watching the games. 4.0 yards per carry is not fantastic, the average goes down to 3.63 yards per carry for the running backs if you take away Alex Green's 41 yard run at the end of the Colts game. An average of 3.63 yards per carry is bad, and after looking through all of the data, the Packers' running game starts to look even worse.

Assuming that all Aaron Rodgers runs were called passes, the Packers have called a run play on only 27.7 percent of plays this season, down from 32 percent last year, and far from the 50/50 split most teams traditionally would like to see (although the Packers offense is obviously different). Including pass receptions, the running backs have only touched the ball on 33.7 percent of plays this year and accounted for only 28.8 percent of the offense's total yards.

The remainder does not include the drives where halves ended during the drive:

The percentage of called run plays per drive this year goes as follows:
Drives with 50 percent of plays or greater as run plays: 15.4 percent of drives
Drives with 40 percent of plays or greater as run plays: 23.1 percent of drives
Drives with 30 percent of plays or less as run plays: 40.1 percent of drives

These numbers are a little ridiculous considering that on 32.7 percent of drives the Packers ran three plays or fewer, so one run would equate to at minimum a 33 percent run rate. On one-half of all drives, the Packers will run the ball either one time or not all for the entire duration of a drive, a surprisingly low number. On 30.8 percent of drives, the Packers have failed to run the ball at all, a staggering number. Now, compare these numbers to the dominant Packer offense of last year:

% of drives with 0 carries % of drives with 1 or less carries % of drives with 2+ carries
2011 13.0% 47.2% 52.8%
2012 30.8% 50% 50%


The percentage of drives with one or less carries and two or more carries are essentially the same as last season, however the percentage of drives where the team failed to even run the ball once is over double that of last year. Teams do not even need to honor the run against the Packers this year because, too often, they don't even attempt to run, which allows an already shaky offensive line to occasionally register on the Richter Scale.

Is it possible that the Packers' low rushing play rate doesn't mean anything? After all, this is a pass-heavy offense, led by the reigning MVP. This could be true because, as was just shown, the Packers still run the ball one or less times or two or more times on a drive just as often as they did last year. So, maybe the inflated percentage of times that the Packers have failed to run the ball on a drive this year means nothing.

However, that does not appear to be the case when one takes a deeper look at the stats. On drives where the Packers run the ball at least two times, they've scored 40 percent of the time. A total of 58.8 percent of their scoring drives have come with two-plus called run plays on a drive. While the percent of two-plus carry drives that have resulted in scores is down from last year, the numbers from both seasons show that when the Packers run the ball at least two times on a drive, they score at a high rate.

% of 2+ carry drives that resulted in scores % of scoring drives that had 2+ carries
2011 58.8% 57.5%
2012 40% 58.8%


On the flip side -- and this is possibly the most telling stat of them all -- the Packers have not run the ball on 30.8 percent of drives this season and have only scored once on those drives. That drive? A one play, 26-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver following a turnover. All the while, the Packers have sustained one drive of longer than three plays and scored on it while running the ball one time or less. The Packers simply are not sustaining worthwhile drives without running the ball multiple times.

The Packers are not, or at the very least have not been, the quick strike offense of previous years. Their offense is much better and scores more points on average when running the ball two times or more on a drive, something they haven't done this season. Green Bay is very dependent on Rodgers to lead an elite passing attack, however, he can't do it by himself.

Mike McCarthy's offensive formula should be simple: run the ball at least two times on a drive, and score 50 percent of the time. Running the ball more often to keep opposing defenses off balance, not to mention give the defense a rest by eating up more clock, could help cure what is ailing the Packers.

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